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October 16, 2018

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Following the Tea Party

Republicans move away from mainstream to placate the far-right wing

Toying with a run for president, real estate mogul Donald Trump made waves this week questioning whether President Barack Obama was born in the United States. He even said he sent investigators to Hawaii, the president’s birthplace, to check things out.

Trump joined the growing list of Republicans aligning themselves with the far-right wing of the party, some of whom ridiculously question whether the president is actually a citizen. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee recently played to the conspiracy theories on the right, saying Obama grew up in Kenya, which clearly isn’t true.

Normally, such statements would be dismissed and the candidates would be pushed to the fringe. But in a recent poll gauging the popularity of potential Republican candidates, Trump and Huckabee finished tied for second.

The Republican Party has taken a hard turn to the right, embracing the Tea Party, which detests government and spending. Republicans exploring a run for president have been falling all over themselves to pander to that crowd.

For example, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota called the president “anti-American” and said Washington is a “gangster government.” And former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called Obama the “most radical president” in the nation’s history and claimed he was a socialist.

When it comes to policy, Republicans are following the Tea Party on the budget. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, won the praise of many Republican presidential hopefuls for offering a plan that he says will slash trillions of dollars in spending. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Ryan showed “real leadership,” even though the plan, which is based on faulty assumptions, would gut government services including Medicare.

That’s hardly leadership, but Republicans have called for massive budget cuts and reductions in crucial services, particularly those for the poor and needy, because that is what the Tea Party wants. But that’s not good for the country.

The nation has seen how the Tea Party’s influence has played out in Congress. Republicans won control of the House last year, spurred on in part by the Tea Party, and they believe they have a mandate to chop government and have marked many important programs for elimination.

But that’s not the message voters sent. People want to see Washington work, and that takes cooperation and compromise. Republicans have refused.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released this week is the latest to show how the Tea Party is further falling out of favor with the public. Less than 30 percent of those polled had a positive view of the Tea Party.

Bill McInturff, a Republican who is co-director of the poll, said the results are a “flashing yellow light” for Republicans. Although Ryan proposed overhauling Medicare, the poll showed that more than half of the public thinks it’s working or in need of minor modifications.

The fact is the Tea Party doesn’t represent America, but Republicans don’t understand that. Their actions have only served to further polarize the country. If they want to show “real leadership,” they’ll ignore the extreme views of the Tea Party, tone down the rhetoric and start working for the good of all Americans.

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